In France, online training is becoming more and more common, and while some colleges and universities were already offering digital courses, the health crisis has made them more widespread. Keep up with the evolution of distance learning, and how the education sector and students must deal with this new approach.
How has distance learning evolved since 2020?
Distance learning before 2020, existing but specialized.
Distance learning in France has undergone a great development in recent years, yet online learning has been around for some time, even if it only concerned a very specific and minority of the population.
The institutions offering students courses via the Internet report that the majority of their students were interested in these studies for specific reasons. For young people, the desire to study at a distance stemmed in particular from the lack of offers available in their region in terms of universities and higher education (particularly for fields such as computer science, security, or to find a specific bachelor's or master's degree), but also from the student's aspiration to find a type of education that is more suitable for him or her than the classic school, with work-study training for example.
Another public, older, has long favored these courses, especially for updating skills, or for retraining and requalifying after several years of work in a first field or after a period of unemployment. Thus, distance learning was mainly requested by women, who are more likely to have a break in their professional career, due to maternity or moving to follow their spouse.
Ten years ago, it was estimated that 85% of students in online courses were women, compared to 15% of men. But in recent years this ratio has changed, and with the economic crises making jobs unstable, the desire to find a job with more meaning, and the independence of women in society, the share of men in these distance learning courses has doubled between 2010 and 2020, even before the arrival of the health crisis.
During the COVID crisis, a new way of teaching took hold.
Distance learning forced by circumstances.
Beginning in 2020, with the COVID crisis and public health measures, online learning was prompted to become widespread in institutions from university to high school to college. While this learning experience had already become a part of student life in some colleges and high schools, it was a real change for the vast majority of classrooms, which had to quickly adapt to this new way of teaching. The use and manipulation of computer tools had to become widespread, especially for a whole generation of teachers, who were more used to preparing their lessons on paper.
Quickly adapt to new methods of online teaching.
With online courses, a paradigm shift has taken place, and beyond the file sharing tools put in place, and the new management of students regarding their presence and involvement during classes, teachers and institutions had to totally rethink their approach by trying to offer attractive and dynamic online sessions in order to keep the attention of their students, often estimated at about 15 minutes by the various conducted studies, if nothing is done to capture it. The use of a collaborative video conferencing platform such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom, graphic tablets for student-professor interactivity during digital exercises, sharing software to send lesson summaries and learning resources, or even virtual campuses with an avatar, have all been introduced in order to make Internet classes more attractive and increase the proportion of students passing exams.
What impact has distance learning had on learning?
A varying degree of adaptation according to the audience.
A variable experience depending on the audience.
Although distance learning suffered from a rapid and chaotic implementation in its early days, over time, the search for new learning methods, and the mastery of digital tools by teachers and students, have allowed for some efficiency in online training and courses. However, even though a large number of students, mainly at the university level and in work-study programs, have appreciated the generalization of online courses, for high school students, the situation is not as positive. Indeed, for the latter, still not very autonomous in the way they attend classes, and with the greater temptation to abandon certain disciplines, it has been less easy to motivate them to get involved in lessons that are sometimes not very inspiring, due to the limited interaction with teachers who do not possess the proper tools. The lower middle class, even those in financial difficulty, are even more sensitive to school dropout, as they are particularly affected by absenteeism, and even more so because of the limited access to digital technology in this social category. Digital isolation becomes a real factor of inequality when it comes to completing the required assignments, but also to register and use platforms to attend lessons and prepare for tests and exams.
More limited interaction with distance education.
Although some academic fields, such as science, languages, and others, were already accustomed to the use of online digital resources, distance learning nevertheless limited social interaction, regardless of the level of study. Indeed, 61.2% of students felt they had less interaction with their peers, and 70% felt less interaction with their teachers. However, this finding is mainly due to a lack of awareness among institutions and educators of the tools available for distance learning, and a real increase in interactivity may be possible if these are accessible to both students and teachers.
Solutions to improve distance learning with appropriate and efficient tools.
Software specific to each situation.
To date, the main criticism of distance learning comes from the interaction between students and teachers, and the accessibility of adapted tools. These tools are essential to provide attractive training and interactive courses, but also to carry out exercises at a distance, to have access to digital resources, or to register and use each online platform necessary for the proper learning of lessons. Among the digital tools to be favored, a video conferencing software is the basis for any interactive distance learning. It allows you to offer a live class to your students, to interact directly with them in case of misunderstanding, but also keep a human relationship between the school and the students, via the teacher. A sharing platform is also essential to provide the necessary documents for the good progress of the lessons, but also for the students to forward their assignments for correction, especially in high school and college, which require increased monitoring from teachers.
The graphic tablet to easily teach remotely.
A tool that is becoming more and more essential for online classes is the graphic tablet. It can be used in many ways, and it significantly increases the interaction with the students during the lesson. Indeed, thanks to a graphic tablet, it is possible to write digitally in real time, thanks to a whiteboard software. This makes it possible to carry out exercises, as if the teacher wanted to have a student go to the whiteboard in a conventional classroom. It is also a great advantage in order to correct digital copies with a single stroke of the pen. Teaching is also greatly facilitated, as the graphics tablet allows freehand annotation of digital documents, all in real time for all participants.
A technology accessible to all for distance learning.
Unfortunately, not everyone has access to all these technologies, nor do they master them. This is why a graphics tablets and software that are compatible with each other and have a favourable price-performance ratio are necessary. A hybrid graphics tablet, such as the ISKN Repaper, is a good choice, because in addition to meeting all these criteria, it allows people who are not very comfortable with new technologies to write directly on a sheet of paper, placed on the touch surface of the tablet, with a conventional pencil. The words or diagrams written on the sheet are thus transmitted directly to the software. It becomes much easier, when printing the copy sent by a student for example, to work on it in the traditional way, while having the result of the corrections displayed on the digital copy. Universities, like any other institution offering online courses, must now organize themselves in order to offer a service that gives all students access to these tools. Thus, whether it is for the curriculum follow-up, or for the preparation of tests or exams, the latter will have all the advantages and the positive sides of online learning.
In conclusion: what next for distance learning?
If in France, for primary and secondary studies, distance learning is for the moment only envisaged as a complement to in-person classes, as student life at this age does not allow for total autonomy, following the health crisis and the development of distance learning due to health measures, 80% of the French population would like to see an evolution of higher education at university, particularly of the bachelor's and master's degrees, towards a catalog of distance learning. With the democratization of digital equipment in schools or universities, resources and teaching will be more accessible to students, and interaction between students and faculty will be more developed. However, the school or higher education institution must provide access to a service offering fun and easy-to-use tools, from computers to hybrid graphics tablets, allowing anyone to follow the class in the best conditions. Distance learning will impose a new paradigm in the teaching business and the adaptation will be done in parallel with the access to technologies.
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